Jennifer Garrison: Kissing Dementors: Fear and Social Discipline in the Harry Potter Novels
Articles » January 2003

‘That was the scariest thing I've ever seen in my life.'
Scariest ... the scariest thing ... hooded black figures ... cold ... screaming ...
Harry's eyes snapped open.
- J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (134)

In the third novel of her wildly popular Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and
The Prisoner of Azkaban
, J.K. Rowling presents her readers with creatures called Dementors, magical prison guards that are, quite literally, the incarnation of fear (117). Rowling uses the image of the prison throughout her novels to critique a system of social morality based primarily on fear of punishment. In this novel, internalized social discipline and fear become almost the same concept and receive much of the blame for corruption and wrongdoing within social structures. Although many in the Christian right argue that Harry Potter novels oppose Christianity, this third novel actively promotes many fundamentals of Christian morality. What these novels do oppose, however, is a fire-and-brimstone image of an all-seeing deity who is always watching and waiting to punish. Through her descriptions of the wizard prison and the Dementors who guard it, Rowling suggests that there is nothing moral about a morality based on fear.
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Jennifer Garrison is a recent graduate of the University of Alberta’s Honors English program and is preparing for graduate study in medieval literature and popular culture in September 2003.

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